Livestock farmers seek pause in ethanol productionPublished 8:37am Thursday, August 9, 2012 Updated 12:46pm Thursday, August 9, 2012
WASHINGTON — Livestock farmers and ranchers seeing their feed costs rise because of the worst drought in a quarter-century are demanding that the Environmental Protection Agency waive production requirements for corn-based ethanol.
The Obama administration sees no need for a waiver, siding with corn growers — many of them in presidential election battleground states Iowa and Ohio — who continue to support the mandate.
“If not now, when?” Randy Spronk, a Minnesota pork farmer, said of the EPA’s authority to defer the ethanol production requirement when it threatens to severely harm the economy of a state or region. “Everyone should feel the pain of rationing.”
Spronk, who is president-elect of the National Pork Producers Council, said livestock producers will have to reduce their herds and flocks because feed is becoming scarce and too expensive. Cattlemen and chicken farmers have the same concern.
“We do support the American ethanol industry,” said Kristina Butts, executive director of legislative affairs at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. “All we are asking for is that competition for that bushel of corn be on a level playing field.”
The government, she said, “is picking the ethanol industry to be the winner to get that bushel of corn.”
The Renewable Fuel Standard, enacted in 2005 and then significantly expanded in 2007, requires that 13.2 billion gallons of corn starch-derived biofuel be produced in 2012. The intent was to reduce both greenhouse gas emissions blamed for climate change and dependence on foreign oil.
One consequence is that 40 percent of the nation’s corn crop now goes to ethanol producers, compared with 36 percent for feed. The rest is divided between processed food and exports. Critics say ethanol also is a big factor in the price of a bushel of corn going from an average $2.15 a bushel in the 1997-2006 period to more than $8 today.